Telomere shortening, a biomarker of cellular aging, has been associated with aging-related diseases. While psychological stress has been implicated in the process of telomere shortening, associations with activity of physiological stress systems have remained elusive. We studied whether leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses to psychosocial stress in elderly adults.
LTL, measured by qPCR method was available in 1964 women and men from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study at a mean age of 61.5 (SD=2.9) years. At a mean age of 63.5 (SD=2.7) years a subsample of them took part in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) during which salivary cortisol (n=283) and plasma cortisol and ACTH concentrations (n=215) were measured.
Mixed model regression analyses showed no linear or non-linear associations between LTL and HPA axis activity during TSST (p-values for LTL main effects >298; p-values for LTL×time interactions >096). Only one non-linear association between LTL and plasma ACTH area under the curve increment was significant after adjustments for covariates and confounders. This association did not survive correction for multiple testing.
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Our findings suggest that LTL is not consistently associated with HPA axis activity during a standardized psychosocial stress test in elderly adults.